Saturday, August 20, 2016

Classes Begin!

Week one of classes at APIS is officially done!

Overall, it was a great week and it made me happy to interact with students again. I think the biggest teaching adjustments I will be making this year will be in regards to school culture, not necessarily Korean culture. Like anyone who changes to a different school district, you ask all the questions you can think of before classes start in an attempt to be fully prepared, but you don't completely get a "feel" for the school until the students arrive. Only then do you finally start to get an idea of how things work and what social norms exist. Here are some observations of similarities and differences between week one of classes at APIS and my former school in MN:


  • The first week was HOT! Above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humid every day.
  • Students not knowing where to go because of schedule changes.
  • New students joining my class rosters each day because of schedule changes.
  • Working out a few small technology kinks: my printer stopped working, the SmartBoard wouldn't connect, the grade book was being temperamental.
  • I spent the first week focused on getting to know my students, building a class culture, and starting to introduce some science practices.
  • Locker issues: Some students don't like to use lockers, some students don't lock their lockers, students with the lockers that are the farthest away from classrooms are stressed.
  • Started the week with homeroom, going over the student handbook.
  • Weekly staff meetings, with snacks provided!
  • Crazy daily schedule changes. Day 1 had shortened classes to fit in an assembly and homeroom.
  • Students and teachers alike excited to be back and happy to see each other.


  • Air conditioning units in each classroom. Thank goodness!
  • Wonderful use of Google Forms for all sorts of administrative needs (facilities requests, technology help, time-off requests).
  • A lunch period of FORTY-FIVE minutes! Can you believe it? Students have time to play soccer, hang out in the library, and get some class work done - as well as eat their lunch. Amazing!
  • No composition notebooks to be found in the local stores. Needed to change my game plan for class notebooks.
  • Using Edmodo instead of Schoology. So far, I'm sorely missing Schoology. (Sad face)
  • Students carry their backpacks (and sometimes multiple other bags) to class. What???
  • Students wear uniforms, which I did experience at a previous private school in MN, but there are so many variations as to what that uniform can be at APIS it makes my head spin.
  • High School students are expected to provide most of their course supplies, such as highlighters, scissors, colored pencils. Ordering classroom supplies is a tricky, time-intensive process.
  • Staff gets together regularly after school to play basketball, ultimate frisbee, and just have snacks in the park. Teachers' families are welcome!
  • Weekly Science Department meetings with the High School principal.
  • I've already received welcomes from the parents of three of my students in response to my weekly email.
  • I get to walk to school and back each day - love it!

I could probably add quite a bit to those lists, but I think you get the general idea. A few photos will help to round out what the experience has been like so far. First, some photos of my classroom. It's smaller than my room in MN, but my biggest class here only has 15 students, so it fits our needs perfectly. After that, a glimpse into some of our "Week 1" lessons. I can't share photos of my students on my blog like I did in the past, but I was able to take some pictures to represent their work this week.

My Desk: Butterfly decals on the wall traveled all the way from MN, as well as the "365 Days of Wonder" book on my cupboard and big, pink Post-It notes tucked against the wall.
Front of the room. Whiteboard space is minimal, so I laminated some white papers to make more writing surface on a bulletin board.
One side of the room. Another item that traveled from MN - my "questions" poster.
Back of the room with my Mindset reminders on the back bulletin board.
Fume hood, storage, and a couple of windows on the final side of the room.
NHS students brought us rice cakes the day before classes started. They're a traditional Korean dessert. I have to say they they are much too starchy for my taste. Kind of like eating very lightly-sweetened, thick, raw bread dough. I appreciated the very kind gesture, though! 
One of the first week activities to highlight teamwork and science processes: LEGO Build. Each group builds a structure with provided LEGOs and writes instructions on how to make the set. Then another team of students gets the exact same LEGOs and has to build the structure based on the instructions. Great student descriptors came out of this activity, such as the importance of seeing something from someone else's point of view and how working on a team can produce more creativity than working alone.
Another "first week" activity to introduce the "Question Formulation Technique." Students did the classic Milk Fireworks Activity with different types of milk. (At least, I think they were different types of milk. The packaging labels were all in Korean, so I had to guess a bit...) The activity was their question prompt, and then they were able to discriminate between open and closed questions through a sorting exercise. Hoping to incorporate even more PBL this year, and the QFT will be integral to that process.
Have started AP Biology with animal behavior in the past, and decided to take that approach again. In MN, I was able to gather lots of pillbugs for this, but although they can be found in Seoul, I couldn't locate as many. So my first idea was to use cicadas, which are amazingly huge and loud here. The local kids can often be found creeping around with nets attempting to catch them. I figured my family and I could capture enough to use in the lab, but we were foiled; we only caught one! So I made some insect traps with local melons and Asian pears. I have been able to capture tons of ants, a few crickets, and a couple of earwigs. The students have been designing some really interesting investigations based on ant behavior. So far, I've been very impressed by their scientific thinking and insight.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Week in Seoul

The Meyer family has been in Korea for over a week, and it's hard to believe how much has happened during this time. I can tell already that I need to be more prolific in my blogging while I'm here, considering that we seem to experience something new every day. To prevent this post from becoming a novella, however, I'm going to try to sum up the highlights in a few areas.

We arrived at MSP Airport around 11:00 p.m. on July 24 and didn't arrive in Incheon until 5:30 p.m. on July 26 (Korean time). We started with a flight to Los Angeles (about 4 hours) and then flew to Seoul from there (about 12 hours). Being stuck in an airplane seat for 12 hours is a form of torture I hadn't previously considered. My feet were so swollen by the time we landed, I almost couldn't fit my shoes on. Positive note: The food was good, especially the bibimbap for our first meal.

Played some travel Scrabble to pass time in the airport.
 Getting Acclimated
Andy, the high school principal at APIS, picked us up in the airport, helped us get my cell phone up and running, and then drove us to our apartment. He lives in the same building, so he was kind enough to go through some of the confusing parts of our apartment for us. The apartment has a lot of appliances/amenities that are digitized, and of course all the instructions are in Korean. Here are some of the digital controls in our apartment: electronic card entry to get into our building, keypad to get into our apartment, washer, dish washer, air conditioner, wine chiller, kimchi refrigerator, electronic lights panel, hot water for appliances, sinks, shower, and in-floor heating, and the bidet. I'm pretty sure I accidentally hit the buttons for the in-floor heating on our first morning here because things were getting pretty warm, but I think I figured out how to turn it off again by pressing some random buttons.

It didn't take long for the boxes we had shipped to arrive. Number one priority for the boys: playing Magic the Gathering.
The morning after we arrived, Jodi, a counselor at APIS, and her daughter, Katrine, stopped by with baked goods and an offer to take us around the neighborhood. We were just about to go out to search for a market, so it was perfect timing. Besides a small grocery store, we also have coffee shops, a bakery, a stationary store, and multiple restaurants in our neighborhood. Oh - and a McDonald's across the street (Dan and the boys have visited - I'm determined to never cross their threshold!). There is a large stream with bike/running/walking trails along it only a few blocks from our apartment, and APIS is less than a mile away. I've been walking there and back every day. It's mostly a residential area, though, with quite a few schools in the vicinity. I've run on the trails early in the morning (to beat the heat), and there are all sorts of people up and active at the same time.

This looks like playground equipment, but it's actually exercise equipment. It shows up periodically along the trails. Older Korean men and women pause along their walks to work out. The boys thought it was pretty fun too!
Stepping stones across the stream.
One of the first things APIS did for all of us new teachers and families was to take us around Seoul on the busses and trains so that we would get practice using the transportation system. I love not having to drive anywhere! Busses, subways, and taxis are all fairly inexpensive, clean, and easy to use. Our first taxi trip was to EMart to pick up some groceries we couldn't find at our local store. Our first bus/subway trip was to Costco. Hoping to travel to IKEA Korea tomorrow.

Keeping Busy
To start the school year, APIS planned three days of Incoming Faculty Orientation and a three-day retreat for all the staff. There were traditional "workshop week" activities, such as going over the school handbook, procedures, and a school tour, however these were accompanied by some pretty amazing additional experiences: Eating a traditional Korean barbecue, a trip to Insadong (an "arts" neighborhood in Seoul), Shabu Shabu dinner, whitewater rafting, dinner at Todai, and a Korean baseball game. The food here has been delicious so far. I'm going to need to do a separate post on all the wonderful dishes we've tried - and the fun Korean snack foods we've discovered. Even the school cafeteria food has been yummy!

The boys have been very open to trying all sorts of new foods - and they've found some they surprisingly enjoy. Egen likes this type of mushroom you can find in a lot of dishes here, and Quinn loves octopus.
Painting ceramic figures - one of the activities the boys did in Insadong.
Dan at Korean barbecue. So many side dishes! You grilled your own meat at the table and then built it into a lettuce wrap.
Eating snacks at the Korean baseball game.
Panoramic of the field.
Hot and exhausted while waiting for the subway after the ball game.
If you can't tell from my descriptions, I am loving Seoul, and so is my family. Despite the heat and humidity, we feel very much at home here, and a lot of that has to do with the warm welcome we've received from the APIS faculty and staff. There is so much more I could write about, but I think it's time to wrap up this post for now. I'm hoping to write future posts about Korean food, my classroom, and my walk to work, so keep checking in!